Last season, the Green Bay Packers fell short of their goal of going to and winning the Super Bowl. For the most part, they have only themselves to blame and are bringing back most of their roster from last season to right the wrong. To finally reach the Promised Land, however, they need the players they already have to be even better in 2021.
Of course, it would help if Aaron Rodgers decides to honor his contract and show up to play, but that is out of his teammates’ control. What they can control, however, is how well they play. Here are three that will explode to make significant jumps in 2021.
When the Green Bay Packers drafted Rashan Gary in 2019, many people hated the pick. When Gary was given the recently cut Clay Matthews’ number 52, many hated it even more. Even Clay Matthews himself tweeted:
Rashan Gary’s rookie season was not what fans expected from a first-round pick. He only played 24% of the defensive snaps and had just two sacks. This was due, in large part, to his recovery from a shoulder injury suffered in college. The Packers, however, knew his potential and had high hopes for him entering 2020.
Gary rewarded the Packers for their faith in him and earned an increase in playing time due to his production. He played 44% of the defensive snaps last season and had five sacks.
As he enters his third full season, it should be noted that Gary has not missed a game in his brief NFL career. Health was a serious concern in the eyes of many critics but has not been an issue. In 2021, with a new defensive coordinator at the helm, Gary looks like he is primed to make a substantial third-year leap. Reports from minicamp stated that he was the best player on the field. In short, in small sample size, Gary outplayed the likes of Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, and Darnell Savage.
If one were to look at social media to determine how good Marquez Valdes-Scantling (MVS) was last year, one would think he was one of the worst wide receivers in the NFL. So toxic was social media towards MVS, that he even received death threats from weak-minded “fans” whose only athletic achievement was beating a nine-year-old on Madden. However, MVS had the type of season last year that shows signs of greatness on the horizon.
MVS had 33 receptions for 690 yards and six touchdowns. His 20.9 yards per catch was the highest in the NFL. In the NFC Championship Game, which the Packers lost, MVS had four receptions of 115 yards and a score. His drop rate of 11.1% was indeed too high. However, teammate Allen Lazard had a drop rate of 10.8% and never got the kind of blowback that MVS received.
Packers fans may remember another young receiver that had terrible drop rates through his first few seasons as well: Davante Adams. Now, Davante Adams is a First-Team All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler, and on the verge of becoming one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. MVS, who is in a contract year, may follow a very similar path. His speed makes him a nightmare in the open field. When (not if) his drop rate decreases, he will be putting up those video game numbers his critics flaunt over their juvenile competition.
Last season, the Packers’ received much criticism for trading up in the Draft to take Jordan Love. What was lost by the national media, who joined in the criticism, was that local fans and media were also dissatisfied with the team taking AJ Dillon in the second round. At the time, the Packers had Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in the backfield, so fans did not understand using such a high pick on a third-string back.
Dillon made the most of his opportunities, however, and posted 5.3 yards per carry. He ended the 2020 season with 46 carries, 242 yards, and two touchdowns.
The best glimpse fans received of what Dillon can do came two days after Christmas against the Tennessee Titans in a classic snowy game at Lambeau Field. Dillon received the bulk of the carries, taking 21 handoffs for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
Now, with Jamaal Williams having departed in free agency, Dillon will take over as the backup running back behind Aaron Jones. Williams received 119 carries last season. If Dillon can maintain his 5.3 yards per carry average and gets that many looks, he could have over 600 yards rushing. Not too shabby for a backup!